BMA considers vote of no confidence in Andrew Lansley

Doctors are frustrated that they are being ignored. “Top-down reorganisation” is exactly what this l

The British Medical Association (BMA) – the professional body representing doctors – is to debate a vote of no confidence in the Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, amid mounting anger about his plans to restructure the NHS.

An emergency general meeting has been called for next week. Several motions highly critical of the Health Secretary will be discussed.

The BMA's biggest branch, its London regional council, has submitted a motion seeking a vote of no confidence. Another, from the Buckinghamshire branch, calls for the same, on the basis that Lansley has reneged on a pre-election promise to end "top-down reorganisation of the NHS" and has pursued reform despite no evidence that either patient care or NHS finances will be improved.

Birmingham doctors make the same point, in markedly angry language, saying that one "would not buy a used car off someone who had trumpeted no 'top-down' reorganisation of the NHS prior to being elected and then proceeds to introduce a massive and clearly long-planned reorganisation of the NHS after being elected".

Much of this frustration arises from doctors feeling that their concerns are being ignored by the Health Secretary. In January the BMA chairman, Dr Hamish Meldrum, voiced concerns that Lansley had not responded directly to the organisation's detailed and constructive criticisms of the Health Bill.

Dr Kevin O'Kane, chairman of the BMA's London region, explains the move thus:

The BMA has until now attempted to have dialogue with the Health Secretary since he released his NHS reform white paper last summer. But unfortunately Andrew Lansley has totally ignored our concerns and has behaved in a high-handed fashion with the concerns of the BMA, other health unions, the medical royal colleges, patients' groups and health think tanks.

The proposed reforms have been controversial, to say the least, with David Cameron employing a new adviser to keep an eye on NHS policy. After private meetings with Lansley, the Prime Minister has decided to stand by the policy. However, it is cause for concern if the voices of the professionals who will be affected are ignored, particularly given that Cameron wrote just last month that the "big society" means "putting trust in professionals and power in the hands of the people they serve".

In practice, if a vote of no confidence were passed, it would further dilute the BMA's capacity to influence the policy. But that it is even under discussion is a sign of huge frustration within the medical profession. The government would do well to engage with these dissenting voices in order to make reform more workable, rather than shut them out altogether. "Top-down reorganisation" is exactly what this looks like.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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How the Lib Dems learned to love all-women shortlists

Yes, the sitting Lib Dem MPs are mostly white, middle-aged middle class men. But the party's not taking any chances. 

I can’t tell you who’ll be the Lib Dem candidate in Southport on 8 June, but I do know one thing about them. As they’re replacing a sitting Lib Dem (John Pugh is retiring) - they’ll be female.

The same is true in many of our top 20 target seats, including places like Lewes (Kelly-Marie Blundell), Yeovil (Daisy Benson), Thornbury and Yate (Clare Young), and Sutton and Cheam (Amna Ahmad). There was air punching in Lib Dem offices all over the country on Tuesday when it was announced Jo Swinson was standing again in East Dunbartonshire.

And while every current Lib Dem constituency MP will get showered with love and attention in the campaign, one will get rather more attention than most - it’s no coincidence that Tim Farron’s first stop of the campaign was in Richmond Park, standing side by side with Sarah Olney.

How so?

Because the party membership took a long look at itself after the 2015 election - and a rather longer look at the eight white, middle-aged middle class men (sorry chaps) who now formed the Parliamentary party and said - "we’ve really got to sort this out".

And so after decades of prevarication, we put a policy in place to deliberately increase the diversity of candidates.

Quietly, over the last two years, the Liberal Democrats have been putting candidates into place in key target constituencies . There were more than 300 in total before this week’s general election call, and many of them have been there for a year or more. And they’ve been selected under new procedures adopted at Lib Dem Spring Conference in 2016, designed to deliberately promote the diversity of candidates in winnable seats

This includes mandating all-women shortlists when selecting candidates who are replacing sitting MPs, similar rules in our strongest electoral regions. In our top 10 per cent of constituencies, there is a requirement that at least two candidates are shortlisted from underrepresented groups on every list. We became the first party to reserve spaces on the shortlists of winnable seats for underrepresented candidates including women, BAME, LGBT+ and disabled candidates

It’s not going to be perfect - the hugely welcome return of Lib Dem grandees like Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Julian Huppert to their old stomping grounds will strengthen the party but not our gender imbalance. But excluding those former MPs coming back to the fray, every top 20 target constituency bar one has to date selected a female candidate.

Equality (together with liberty and community) is one of the three key values framed in the preamble to the Lib Dem constitution. It’s a relief that after this election, the Liberal Democratic party in the Commons will reflect that aspiration rather better than it has done in the past.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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